As NewsBusters has previously reported, the evening newscasts gleefully reported on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of the word “bribery” to describe President Trump’s actions during his phone call with the President of Ukraine. Throughout the day on Thursday, cable news personalities also parroted Pelosi's talking point suggesting that the President’s actions “make what Nixon did look almost small.” Or, perhaps, Pelosi repeated that talking points after hearing it on cable news.
During CNN’s special impeachment coverage in the 10:00 a.m. ET hour, former Nixon White House Counsel and liberal media fan favorite John Dean declared that what Trump did is “so much more serious than Nixon’s activities.” In an effort to advance his narrative that the President is worse than his former boss, Dean argued that “Nixon actually turned over more information.”
During the 11:00 a.m. ET hour, Pelosi held her press conference; where she ushered out her “Trump is worse than Nixon” talking point. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Dean said the same thing less than an hour earlier.
Regardless of whether Pelosi’s suggestion that what Trump did made “what Nixon did look almost small” was an original idea or not, cable news talking heads recycled that talking point later in the day. During the 3:00 p.m. ET hour on CNN, host Jake Tapper asked impeachment historian Jeffrey Engel “is Speaker Pelosi right that this makes what Nixon did look almost small?” Engel agreed with Pelosi’s analysis, responding to Tapper’s inquiry by proclaiming: “it does.”
At around the same time on MSNBC, Never-Trumper and Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin described Trump’s behavior as “far more serious and far many more witnesses than Richard Nixon had.” In addition to obsessing over comparing Trump to Nixon, cable news anchors and guests showed their liberal bias in many other ways during these particular segments.
After rolling out his first comparison of the President to Richard Nixon, Dean described the Trump-Ukraine controversy as “in the area of Iran-Contra.” He also tipped his hat to the permanent bureaucracy, claiming that “but for the foreign service having a spine and coming forward, we wouldn’t know what was going on.” Hours later, Tapper accused House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes of “basically listing every conspiracy theory...that we’ve read on InfoWars and Fox News for the last year.”
As she introduced Rubin, MSNBC’s Chris Jansing showed her bias by describing the “Republican strategy” to “sew confusion and doubt about the President’s actions and his intent.” Jansing seemed to agree with Rubin’s premise that “Republicans flopped around like a hooked fish on a deck” during the impeachment hearings while “the witnesses looked blankly at them or denied any knowledge when they asked questions spun off from debunked conspiracy theories.” Before unveiling her comparison of Trump to Nixon, Rubin argued that “the noose is tightening” and predicted that there “is going to be a very robust obstruction of Congress article of impeachment.”
Transcripts of the relevant portions of CNN’s Impeachment Inquiry special coverage are below. Click “expand” to read more.
Impeachment Inquiry: Special Coverage
WOLF BLITZER: Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, he said this in his opening statement. I’ll play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24th, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian. Anyone familiar with the Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, what do you think? You’re shaking your head.
JOHN DEAN: Not even close, not even close. What happened is Trump forced this issue on us. As the…as the Russia investigation was wrapping up, this man is plotting his next activity that is illegitimate. To…to get a foreign country to do the dirty work of…of opposition research in exchange for foreign aid is outrageous. This is…Wolf, to me, this is so much more serious than Nixon’s activities, it’s more serious…certainly more serious than Bill Clinton’s activities. It’s in the area of Iran-Contra, which was settled behind closed doors. But this is…this is something that affects our national security.
BLITZER: More serious than Nixon, more serious than Bill Clinton?
PAUL ROSENZWEIG: Oh, certainly more serious than Bill Clinton, who’s…I mean, I…I worked on the Clinton campaign and I…Clinton impeachment, and I still feel as though that impeachment was…was well-founded. But whatever you think of that, it involved misconduct that arose at a personal level, not the misuse of presidential authority for personal gain. And I…I, I have to say as well, that buried in…in yesterday’s news was the…was the Roger Stone trial and Rick Gates. And so, anybody who actually goes and reads that testimony knows that Mr. Nunes’ characterization of what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia is false. There was direct testimony there of what amounts to collusion. It may very well not be prosecutable criminally, but there’s no doubt at all that this is part and parcel of the President’s playbook, to seek Russia, to seek foreign influence on American electoral campaigns.
BLITZER: The tone of the hearing so far, what do you think?
DEAN: What happens is they’re faster with less information than historically. When I say “faster,” events are occurring. Maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s more media today than there were with three or four networks in…in the past. But less information in the fact that Clinton, for example, turned over information, Nixon actually turned over more information, Andrew Johnson turned over more information. So, this…in this White House, they’ve just closed the door. And but for the foreign service having a spine and coming forward, we wouldn’t know what was going on.
BLITZER: John Dean, Paul Rosenzweig, guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Impeachment Inquiry: Special Coverage
JAKE TAPPER: We have with us Elliot Williams, a former Justice Department prosecutor; Constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt, and impeachment historian Jeffrey Engel. Michael, let me start with you. So, Republicans are honed in on the fact that none of the witnesses so far have…have ever spoken to the President ever; much less about this alleged impeachable offense. But we’re going to start to hear from individuals who have had conversations with the President, including Ambassador Sondland, and then the individual tomorrow who’s going to testify behind closed doors who overheard a conversation between Sondland and the President. Is that important, to go closer and to actually get firsthand information, as opposed to what Republicans are calling hearsay?
MICHAEL GERHARDT: I think all of it’s important. They’re starting with people on the ground, so to speak, who are close to the facts, and particularly the implement…implementation of a policy or an effort that was contrary to American policy. At the same time, as you build that record with very reliable witnesses such as those yesterday, you’re going to build a stronger case that there’s a real significant need to hear from people closer to the President, who apparently do know things, like John Bolton and the Chief of Staff.
TAPPER: Mick Mulvaney, if he actually comes to testify. Elliot, take a listen to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the President’s most stalwart defenders and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We’re not going to let the President of the United States be tried based on an anonymous accusation. We’re not going to let him be convicted in the Senate based on a bunch of hearsay. You’re basically going to destroy the presidency over time if you continue this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS: There’s a lot wrong with that. Number one, when you start talking about anonymous, what they’re doing is poking at the whistle-blower. That is incredibly dangerous. And let’s say it again, Jake and we’ve said it on this show before. There is a federal statute protecting whistle-blowers against things like this, which out the names of people who…and we…we want to incentivize, give people a reason to come forward and bring evidence and allegations of wrongdoing and so on. So, it’s dangerous what he’s doing, when…when they start flirting with releasing this whistle-blower’s name. Again, piggybacking on Michael’s point, when we…the use of the word hearsay is also a tricky one as well, because hearsay is still evidence. Now, it is itself less reliable than other forms of evidence. But that’s why you corroborate it. You call other people. You call Gordon Sondland. You call the individual who had heard…or who claims to have heard or they believe has heard…you know, overheard the phone call. But that’s how evidence is built. But the idea that the mere fact that it is hearsay means that it’s…cannot be brought in and cannot be considered, that’s just not true. And that’s not how trials or cases or evidence works at all.
TAPPER: Or previous examples of…of scandal and oversight by the House, in which people now who are decrying whistle-blowers were defending whistle-blowers. I mean, a lot of the Benghazi people were people that had secondhand information.
WILLIAMS: And one more big really quick point. When we speak about hearsay, it’s in the federal rules of evidence. It’s what governs what happens in trials. Federal rules of evidence don’t apply in an impeachment trial. They just don’t. Congress sets the terms of how impeachment works.
TAPPER: Jeffrey, you’re an impeachment historian. Take a listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: What President Trump has done on the record, in terms of acting to advantage his…a foreign power to help him in his own election and of the obstruction of information about that, the cover-up, makes what Nixon did look almost small.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, two points. First of all, I think that Speaker Pelosi is saying that the accusation of President Trump, that he’s pushing a foreign power to help him in his own election, that is the central question. And…and all the other stuff we’re hearing about whistle-blowers and hearsay is almost noise, compared to…that is what Congress needs to find out. But as an impeachment historian, is Speaker Pelosi right that this makes what Nixon did look almost small?
JEFFREY A. ENGEL: It does, for a very important reason, and that is dealing with a foreign power. All the other impeachments that we have dealt with, whether it’s Johnson in the 1860s or whether it’s Nixon or whether it’s Clinton, was about domestic affairs, it was about domestic politics. This foreign power dealings is exactly what the Founders were concerned about. When they went through at the Constitutional Convention the list of potential hypothetical reasons you might want to impeach a President, on top of their list was because…if a President lies to get elected, or if a President deals with a foreign power, essentially placing the needs of himself or the foreign power above those of the American people. That’s exactly the language that was used by the people at the Constitutional Convention when they thought, what would be the reason you’d want to leave…make a President leave office?
TAPPER: And do you…when you hear the Republicans talking about other matters, such as Devin Nunes basically listing every conspiracy theory that…that we’ve read on Infowars and Fox News for the last year, reciting it in his opening statement, when you hear about, I demand to see the whistle-blower, I demand to have the…the whistle-blower testify, does…do you think none of it is relevant? I mean, for instance, is it not reasonable to…for Republicans to say we’d like to meet the whistle-blower? He said or she said they had firsthand information?
GERHARDT: I think almost all of it’s irrelevant. There…the whistle-blower properly issued a report. And it’s been corroborated by all the evidence we’ve seen so far. So, it’s as if somebody who reported a bank robbery happening, and the police show up, they find it in progress, and then say, we want to ask you about the person that gave the tip. No, you got a crime happening right in front of you. There’s a transcript, for example, from the President that shows he may have committed a very serious, impeachable offense of asking a foreign leader to intervene in our election.
TAPPER: And that’s something for listeners at home and viewers at home to…to pay attention to, which is, the central question of all of this is, did President Trump abuse his office by asking Ukraine to investigate and announce an investigation into his political rivals? That’s the central question. Thanks to our political panel…I mean, our legal panel. Appreciate it.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Thursday’s edition of MSNBC Live With Ali Velshi is below. Click “expand” to read more.
MSNBC Live With Ali Velshi
CHRIS JANSING: The White House today arguing that Democrats failed to connect the dots in their first public impeachment hearing. But NBC also reporting that officials there were blindsided by the bombshell revelation of an arguably incriminating phone call between President Trump and EU Ambassador Sondland. Republican strategy has been consistent: sew confusion and doubt about the President’s actions and his intent. Whether they succeeded is still unclear. As The Washington Post opinion writer and MSNBC contributor Jennifer Rubin writes in a new column, “Republicans flopped around like a hooked fish on a deck; struggling, but to no avail. The witnesses looked blankly at them or denied any knowledge when they asked questions spun off from debunked conspiracy theories.” Jennifer Rubin is with us now. Also with us, David Drucker, senior political correspondent for The Washington Examiner and a contributing writer to Vanity Fair’s “The Hive.” It’s good to see both of you. So Jennifer, even if everything you say is true and no doubt, I think some of the strongest moments yesterday were the looks that Ambassador Taylor gave his Republican questioners. Even with that, is the needle in a different place than it was before the testimony yesterday?
JENNIFER RUBIN: None of us know. And none of us know where it’s going to be in a week or two weeks. So, I think what’s important is to focus on what the facts are and really the lack of a Republican factual response in any sense. Exactly as you say, we now have a phone call where the President’s own voice is heard by one, and now, we have learned two witnesses. And those people are going to testify, in addition to Ambassador Sondland. So, I think the…the noose is tightening. The number of facts that are tying Trump to these other actions, to these other conversations, is closing in. And of course, as the Democrats rightly say, they can’t be faulted for not bringing forth Mulvaney or bringing forth any of the other close witnesses because these people are refusing to appear at the direction of the White House. And that goes to what I think is going to be a very robust obstruction of Congress article of impeachment. Far more serious and far many more witnesses than Richard Nixon had.